Jim Smith's all-ages punk club the Smell was dealt a bruising blow Friday when its landlord posted a notice that the downtown building had been issued a permit to be to demolished.
The news sparked despair and outrage on social media, especially when it was learned that the adjacent properties that house the Downtown Independent Theatre and the Jalisco, a gay nightclub, were also in danger.
But the Smell's proprietor, who has operated the club for 18 years, remains as defiant and committed to the future as the experimental artists who occupy his stage.
Speaking to The Times after the notice was affixed to the Smell's entrance, Smith said that he was caught off guard by the bad news, but it wasn't a total shocker.
Last year, the owner who'd leased the space to him sold to a big developer. "We did a little bit of digging and discovered that the company is the parent company of Joe's Auto Parks," said Smith. "This set off alarms, because we knew they owned parking lots surrounding the block. It didn't look very good." Email queries to the L&R Group of Companies, which owns the property, were not returned.
As a result, Smith had been strategizing a possible move, just not so abruptly.
What surprised him was the response from the community, a fan base for whom the Smell remains a lifeline for the punk and noise scene. When he posted the notice on social media, comments poured in from across the world.
More concretely, the news prompted the core group of artists and volunteers who support the club to convene a meeting Saturday night to strategize a response.
Among those attending was Randy Randall, guitarist and singer for No Age. The band earned its audience at the Smell, and over the years he has both volunteered and served as a worldwide ambassador for the club's community-based ideals.
Randall said he was at home with his family on Saturday when he was beckoned. "It was like the bat signal," he said. "I got a text from Jim saying, 'Hey be here at 7 to hear what's happening with the Smell.' My wife and our baby were on the couch and we were getting ready for a bath and bed. Then, 'Well, I gotta go to the Smell.'"
About 10 people met before the night's bands were slated to start. They developed what Smith described as "an action plan." Among the initiatives is a $1.4-million GoFundMe campaign to raise money for relocation when the time arrives, and possibly even buying a small building.
Said Smith: "After careful consideration – obviously it's only been three days – but we have looked into the cost of a comparable size building within a few miles of where we're at now. We would like to keep it central. That's one of the great things about the Smell is that it's drawn kids and people from all over the region, and part of our appeal is that it's centrally located, close to mass transit and easy to get to." As of Wednesday morning, the fundraiser has raised just over $10,000.
That Smith has a full-time job and has run the Smell for almost two decades has led some to wonder whether he's burned out on running the place. Smith, however, said he's not going anywhere.
"Obviously there are days when I'm like, 'Oh my gosh,' but by and large I'm totally committed to it," he said. "If I didn't want to do it, this would be a great opportunity for me to say, well, that's the way it is. But I really believe in what we do and I want to keep it going for future generations."
And he's optimistic there will be a resolution. "I am confident that we can get through this and emerge with a better building, the better location and land on our feet," Smith said.
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